Matthew Brashears, professor of sociology at Cornell University, is the principal investigator on a Defense Threat Reduction Agency research project to develop new ways to identify covert social networks, particularly those that are preparing a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. He comments on Edward Snowden’s latest leak showing the NSA’s ability to monitor user data from smartphone apps.
“It's no surprise that many apps are gathering a considerable amount of information on their users, but the real privacy issue is not that the NSA or U.K. intelligence are using this data, but that private corporations, answerable primarily to their stockholders, are obtaining it in the first place. It would be naive of national security organizations not to make use of these methods, particularly given the dominance of cellphones in many parts of the world.
“That said, it's clear from past events, including the 9/11 attacks against the United States, that the main difficulty is combining and processing data into actionable intelligence rather than a need for more data. So this approach is flawed practically, regardless of the serious ethical issues.
“In our research, we’ve achieved surprisingly accurate identifications of terrorist suspects with limited, and non-invasive, data – the type of data that minimally violates individual privacy rights. Obviously at some point a closer investigation of such suspects would become invasive, but it appears to be possible to limit such invasive surveillance to a much smaller set of individuals than a sweep of app data includes.”
Brashears’ research project: http://chronicle.cornell.edu/stories/2010/06/matthew-brashears-gets-grant-thwart-terrorism
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